IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this article or follow this journal

The Costs of Babylon—Linguistic Distance in Applied Economics

  • Ingo Eduard Isphording
  • Sebastian Otten

Linguistic distance, i.e. the dissimilarity between languages, is an important factor influencing international economic transactions such as migration or international trade flows by imposing hurdles for second language acquisition and increasing transaction costs. To measure these costs, we suggest to use a new measure of linguistic distance. The Levenshtein distance is an easily computed and transparent approach of including linguistic distance into econometric applications. We show its merits in two different applications. First, the effect of linguistic distance in the language acquisition of immigrants is analyzed using data from the 2000 U.S. Census, the German Socio-Economic Panel, and the National Immigrant Survey of Spain. Across countries, linguistic distance is negatively correlated with reported language skills of immigrants. Second, applying a gravity model to data on international trade flows covering 178 countries and 52 years, it is shown that linguistic distance has a strong negative influence on bilateral trade volumes.

(This abstract was borrowed from another version of this item.)

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

Article provided by Wiley Blackwell in its journal Review of International Economics.

Volume (Year): 21 (2013)
Issue (Month): 2 (05)
Pages: 354-369

in new window

Handle: RePEc:bla:reviec:v:21:y:2013:i:2:p:354-369
Contact details of provider: Web page:

Order Information: Web:

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Gil S. Epstein & Ira N. Gang, 2010. "Migration and Culture," Working Papers 2010-17, Bar-Ilan University, Department of Economics.
  2. Felbermayr, Gabriel & Toubal, Farid, 2006. "Cultural proximity and trade," Tübinger Diskussionsbeiträge 305, University of Tübingen, School of Business and Economics.
  3. Alicia Adsera & Mariola Pytlikova, 2012. "The role of language in shaping international migration," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 1206, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
  4. Petroni, Filippo & Serva, Maurizio, 2010. "Measures of lexical distance between languages," Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, Elsevier, vol. 389(11), pages 2280-2283.
  5. Ku, Hyejin & Zussman, Asaf, 2010. "Lingua franca: The role of English in international trade," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 75(2), pages 250-260, August.
  6. Chiswick, Barry R & Miller, Paul W, 1995. "The Endogeneity between Language and Earnings: International Analyses," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(2), pages 246-88, April.
  7. Cristina Fernández & Ana Carolina Ortega Masagué, 2006. "Labor Market Assimilation of Immigrants in Spain: Employment at the Expense of Bad Job-Matches?," Working Papers 2006-21, FEDEA.
  8. repec:hal:journl:halshs-00641280 is not listed on IDEAS
  9. Isphording, Ingo E. & Otten, Sebastian, 2014. "Linguistic barriers in the destination language acquisition of immigrants," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 105(C), pages 30-50.
  10. Jacques Melitz, 2003. "Language and Foreign Trade," Working Papers 2003-26, Centre de Recherche en Economie et Statistique.
  11. Chiswick, Barry R. & Miller, Paul W., 2004. "Linguistic Distance: A Quantitative Measure of the Distance Between English and Other Languages," IZA Discussion Papers 1246, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  12. David S. Reher & Miguel Requena, 2009. "The National Immigrant Survey of Spain. A new data source for migration studies in Europe," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 20(12), pages 253-278, March.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:bla:reviec:v:21:y:2013:i:2:p:354-369. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Wiley-Blackwell Digital Licensing)

or (Christopher F. Baum)

If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.